Thu 10 Sep 2009 10:31 pm
Tom Douglas always has some new idea cooking, so it didn’t shock me to learn he was thinking of a new restaurant. What did surprise me was the location: Ballard?
Part of Douglas’s game plan until now has been keeping his entire empire in a small, walkable area downtown (see under: Danny Meyer). You’d barely work up an appetite making the full circuit from Etta’s to Palace Kitchen to Lola to Dahlia to Serious Pie. Ballard is hardly Peoria, but it would be a good five miles north, the first “neighborhood” outpost for Seattle’s best-known restaurateur. So I chatted on the phone with Douglas today to find out what’s making him break tradition now.
First, (after pointing out that there’s no done deal and a Ballard spot may never happen), Douglas said this isn’t a new idea for him. He looked for storefronts in Ballard a few years ago. “They always seemed to fall through, because I’m cheap.” But in the current market, a lot of spots are available in the neighborhood, and what he’s willing to pay might finally match what landlords will take.
Any restaurant there would probably be a different management model than his current tight-knit group of restaurants. He’s still figuring out what that might look like. But he wouldn’t want to be just be a hands-off investor in the space — he’s already done that, with Theo Chocolate, Spring Hill, and even a San Francisco restaurant group. “It’s not very fulfilling to be 100% hands-off,” he said.
Douglas is a longtime Ballard resident - he wouldn’t be this interested in making a mark in some other hot Seattle neighborhood — and he actually already has some business interests nearby; the warehouse for his spice rubs is behind Louie’s Cuisine of China. There’s no firm plan in place even if the lease does come through on the old Via Verde or the other spots he’s checking out. Still, Douglas and the other Ballardites on his staff keep thinking that “we all miss the Dandelion,” Carol Nockold’s delightful home of “Real Good Food,” and that the neighborhood could use something in that lovely mold. Or, people keep asking, both locally and nationally, about another outpost of Serious Pie – but that seems less likely. “I’ve never been one to do the same thing twice,” he said. And, as Douglas noted, he’s not alone: Rumor has it that even Meyer — noted for saying one of the keys to his success was being able to walk to all his restaurants — is breaking geographic ranks. Stay tuned.
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